We’re into the final stages of World Cup qualification and some teams from across Europe face absolutely huge tests over the next few days. England are very close to confirming their place in Russia and a victory against Slovenia on Thursday would seal it. An English win would do Scotland a big favour who themselves face a huge game at home against Slovakia. Another one of the British representatives, Wales, also have a big fixture lined up and only a win against Georgia will ensure they hold on to their second place spot in the group.
Hot on Wales’ tail are the Republic of Ireland who sit just one point behind in Group F. They take on Moldova in what should be a straightforward match but we have seen plenty of surprises already this qualification period. Moving our attention to Group A on Saturday and there’s another play-off hopeful side in action, the Netherlands. It’s not been a good campaign for the Dutch but two victories to end qualification could well be enough to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
Thursday 5th October 2017
England v Slovenia (19:45) – England to win by one goal (23/10 with Betfair)
England boast a 37 game unbeaten run in qualification matches (World Cup and Euros) and you don’t want to bet on that coming to an end here. It’s not been an absolutely dominant qualification campaign from the Three Lions who have sometimes relied on late goals but at Wembley things tend to be more comfortable. Here they should have the players capable of making the difference against the nation ranked 55th in the world. Harry Kane, who netted 13 times last month, is one of the best examples of a player in form and you can bank on him giving the Slovenian defence a hard time.
While England should have enough to win the game, it’s hard to see them doing it with much style however. The home side are yet to reach top gear under Gareth Southgate and the England boss admitted the squad is not as strong as he’d like at the moment. Having the likes of Dele Alli, Danny Rose and Phil Jones all unavailable will not aid the England cause and a slender and fairly uninspiring win looks most probable.
Scotland v Slovakia (19:45) – Under 2.5 goals (4/7 with Coral)
This is a must win game for the Scots by every definition of the phrase. Previously with little hope, a timely patch of form in the qualifiers has put them in real contention of securing a play-off spot. Their improvements of late make the all-important three points seem a realistic possibility and playing on home soil is likely to get the best out of them. Gordon Strachan is without Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong though and the absence of the Celtic duo is a big loss.
With two key players out for Scotland and Slovakia far from pushovers, a very tight match can be expected at Hampden. It’s set to be a much tighter affair than when the Slovakians won 3-0 in the reverse fixture last October. Partly because Jan Kozak’s side don’t travel especially well and partly because so much is at stake. Neither of the two sides are known for scoring goals at the best of times and with the first goal being so important here it could be a long time before the deadlock is broken.
Friday 6th October 2017
Georgia v Wales (17:00) – Draw (12/5 with Bet365)
Georgia did Wales a huge favour last month by holding Ireland to a 1-1 draw in Tbilisi, putting the Welsh in pole position for the play-off spot in Group D. There will be no more favours though from Georgia this Friday as they look to extend their unbeaten run to six games. Manager Vladimir Weiss has worked hard to make his side a very difficult one to beat and Wales will need to perform well to claim the three points.
Performing well however is not something Chris Coleman’s side have found too easy since their wonderful Euro 2016 campaign. His side have been far from poor but five group game draws plus two far from comfortable victories last month is not the record of a side playing at their best. It took them 80 minutes to find the opening goal against Moldova in their last test and with goals hard to come by, a frustrating evening could well await them in Georgia.
Republic of Ireland v Moldova (19:45) – Moldova to win with a +3 handicap (5/6 with Ladbrokes)
Ireland’s fate is no longer in their hands so all they can do is pick up the three points here and hope for the best. It’s a game the hosts are very much expected to win as Moldova are the weakest side in Group D with just two points to their name. The minnows have fared better than some of the other small European nations though, conceding a far from embarrassing 20 goals in eight qualification matches.
Their tally of conceded goals might not increase too much on Friday evening either. Martin O’Neil has a lack of strikers at his disposal and he’s been forced to name three forwards who are yet to make senior international appearances. Even one of Ireland’s regulars, Shane Long, hasn’t scored since February. This is slightly worrying news for a side who have managed just nine goals in qualification. Given their troubles scoring, backing the visitors with a big handicap looks to be the way to go here.
Saturday 7th October 2017
Belarus v Netherlands (19:45) – Belarus to win with a +2 handicap (21/20 with Bet365)
Given how unconvincing the Netherlands have looked for much of the qualification period, it’s a little surprising to see them as short as 2/9 to win here. So far in Group A they have only beaten Luxembourg (x2), Belarus and Bulgaria with only one of these victories coming with a clean sheet. The appointment of Dick Advocaat as manager, for the third time, has seemingly improved things for the Dutch but they are still far from the level they were a few years ago.
Belarus’s 4-0 defeat to Sweden in their last qualifying match does not paint a fair picture of the abilities of the side ranked 77th in the world. Usually Igor Kriushenko’s men are fairly solid at home, having previously gone six games unbeaten and this included a 0-0 draw with group leaders France. Goals may not come freely to them but defensively they can be a very stubborn outfit on home soil. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see them doing enough to win the game with a two goal handicap against an unconvincing Dutch side.